This is all getting a little too familiar… and tiring.
Not just the unhealthy habit City have acquired of losing games but the near apocalyptic fallout that ensues following every setback.
The old ‘not too high when you win and not too low when you lose’ adage is clearly not for us.
By the same score there no point in pretending that City played well last night. They didn’t. It was horrible at times. But when you’re Norwich City in the Premier League and you’re faced with a good side who are playing with oodles of confidence and who even have the whiff of a Premier League title in their nostrils it is going to be tough.
What you can ill afford to do in those circumstances is give your opponents a head start.
Good old Norwich.
Alex Neil described the award of the penalty for Spurs’ second goal as “soft” – and it was – but so too Dele Alli’s opener.
You can hear the final pre-match words of Alex and Frankie now… “keep it tight early on, keep your shape, nothing silly, make them work for it”.
Alas the opposite was true. There was no shape – there were bodies scattered all over the place. They were anything but tight. And Spurs really didn’t have to work very hard to carve themselves out an early lead.
And from thereon-in the game plan was screwed.
A midfield that contains Alex Tettey and Youssouf Mulumbu and which doesn’t contain Wes and Nathan Redmond is designed specifically to make it hard for our opponents, and to stifle their creativity and attacking intent. It isn’t designed, or equipped, to be 1-0 in just over a minute.
With no Russell Martin and no Graham Dorrans, Ivo Pinto has made an earlier than expected bid to be next on the hit-list and without question was afforded a torrid opening 45 by a combination of Messrs Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Rose.
But just 180 minutes in the shirt is too early for folk to be making snap judgements on his ability, or otherwise, to survive in the Premier League.
Ditto Timm Klose, who it appears has already been deemed ‘too slow’ by some to help our fight for survival.
And there’s the rub with bringing in players in January – especially those who are experiencing Premier League football for the first time. We want them to hit the ground running, we need them to hit the ground running, but in reality it’s a virtual impossibility.
While some criticise Alex Neil for chopping and changing his starting XI on a game-by-game basis, others were demanding that we see new faces arrive in January to freshen things up. It’s a circle that cannot be squared.
Klose – who I actually thought had a decent debut – and Pinto need time to bed in, but as the points slip away week by week we don’t have time. It’s a conundrum, and one that will only right itself – or at least be disguised – by City winning games of football.
Unfortunately, at the moment wins are merely figments of our collective imagination and that 1-0 triumph over Southampton on January 2, now feels of a different age. That’s 32 days of being marooned on 23 points. Hardly the stuff of PL relegation scrappers.
But last night’s defeat was not down to lack of effort or, for me, the wrong tactics.
The tactics seemed appropriate to the task in hand and having conceded five with a midfield that contained no enforcers but three attacking midfielders it made sense to rein it in with two holders and two disciplined ‘wide’ players (with apologies to Jonny Howson).
The game plan – as already discussed – was undone partly by the early goal and also by the seemingly effortless swagger of Pochettino’s men.
By enjoying so much possession in advanced areas they were able to utilise both full-backs as additional wide men and were comfortably able to overload City down both flanks, but most notably down the side of Master Pinto.
Part of the plan was to crowd Tottenham out in the middle of the pitch, via a narrow midfield, and not allow them to pass ‘through’ us. In isolation that element of it worked okay. The trade-off was conceding space out wide and, for the reasons stated, that part of it certainly did not, especially in the first-half.
But there’s no escaping the quality of the visitors and having led us a merry dance on Boxing Day they did exactly the same last night. An aggregate of 6-0 says it all. So too that City have conceded 17 goals in their last five games.
There’s also no escaping that when in a predicament such as ours you need just a little bit of good fortune: a lucky bounce, a wicked deflection, hell… even a decision or two to go your way. Alas with Kevin Friend in charge that’s about as likely as a Norwich clean sheet.
Our friend in black was not the reason we lost last – that was because Spurs were better than us – but I would dearly love to know if, deep down, he thinks his decision-making was on the button last night. Just curious.
Things are not going for us at the moment. We’re just in one of those ruts that typifies a relegation battle and when it feels as if our imminent demise is all part of one huge Premier League conspiracy.
The answer as ever is thus: we hunker down, pull the coaches in close, stick together and use the negative energy to our advantage.
And Villa Park seems like the perfect place for the fightback to start.
Villa certainly now looks like a dreaded ‘must win’ to avoid us being cut adrift, as does west ham. The question that is making me gloomier than I have been all season is that I’m struggling to see 3 teams worse than us. One definitely, 2 probably but 3? I cling on to the hope that either Bournemouth will implode or there will be one team, as there often is, that expectedly plummet..Palace or WBA? Are there any other positive scenarios that I’ve missed?
With the the team/squad struggling, it’s not going to be easy for new players to hit the ground running, confidence can’t be great despite any bullishness for the cameras. Just 14 games remain for players to gel and grab the necessary points. Doesn’t look promising. Whilst hoping for an upsurge in form, I’m consoling myself prematurely with the fact we have acquired some really good players who will, hopefully, stick around if we are relegated. Similarly, Alex Neil should be afforded another season, at least, whichever league that finds us in. Should we go down, both manager and squad have ably demonstrated they have what it takes to get us back up, so there’s reason to be optimistic whatever this season brings, but we ain’t done for yet. We also have a summer transfer window to come. Pragmatism not pessimism!
Cosmo P. says
Good stiff upper lip Gary – considerably stiffer than mine.
Who knows what the hell will happen at Villa? We’re in such a deep rut that it’s difficult to see where a U-turn is coming from or even if it’s possible to do a U-turn in a rut.
Leaving Wes on the bench all game was odd thinking (especially with Brady out) as was leaving Bassong on for the 2nd half – he’s been fried by every decent striker this season and needs to be taken out of the firing line. Howson stuck out on the right is clearly weakening his contribution. Feels like desperate pick ‘n’ mix rather than logical strategy.
Every other side down the bottom has tightened up of late (including Villa) while we’ve become leakier than a train full of leeks bound for Wales.
The latest collective 1st half no show allowing Spurs to knock it around at will is deeply concerning. Whatever is being drummed in at Colney is evaporating before kickoff – inexcusable for professionals.
On the ball City is more like Off the boil City.
We’re not in a rut. We just played Liverpool, Man City, Spurs and Stoke – none of whom any right minded fan or neutral would expect us to beat. And it was only a month ago we’d won five of six games. Let’s get some perspective.
Dan Rear says
Sorry to be pessimistic, but I’ve thought it’ll be Villa (obvious I know),us and Bournemouth, for ages now. I just can’t see Big Sam going down, nor the Geordies. I’d hoped Swansea may get dragged in, or Baggies, but they look quite solid now. I think what’s put everything into turmoil this year has been how well Leicester, Watford and Palace have done. Pre-season I suspected all 3 of them would have been scrapping with us in the lower reaches.
Stewart Lewis says
Many fair points, Gary.
Perhaps one of the most important is about Spurs’ quality. They’re the form team of the league, unbeaten away since the first day of the season and now ahead of Arsenal – clearly genuine contenders for the title. Some of the comment from City fans really doesn’t take enough account of that.
Spurs didn’t need any help from Mr Friend, but they certainly got it. From the self-satisfied expression he bore most of the night, I don’t think he’s going to reflect very deeply over his performance.
From our point of view, some of the game-to-game tactical swings seem extreme. Logic would suggest playing one of Wes or Redmond plus one of Tettey or Mulumbu, but we seem to swing between both or neither. However, I don’t know the extent of the sickness bug in the squad yesterday, other than that it ruled out Brady.
Villa won’t be easy – but for sure, a lot easier than Spurs. OTBC.
Gary Gowers says
Cityfan (4) – Admire your optimism but through my yellow and green tinted spectacles I was hopeful of a point or two from Stoke and Liverpool, which at the time I didn’t consider unreasonable.
Perhaps a ‘rut’ was a tad too strong but if 5 goals for and 17 against in a run of five defeats on the bounce isn’t one I’d like to know what is.
I tried to keep it in ‘perspective’ but clearly failed! 🙂
Ben K says
*sighs* It’s not looking good at the moment. For the first two minutes of the match we were defending so badly it was criminal. How was Eriksen not spotted lurking in so much space on our right-hand side?
The penalty was a bit soft and we probably should’ve had one ourselves, but you can understand how it wasn’t given. If anything the linesman had a better view of it. Incidentally, Gary, was there anything in particular apart from those two things that you took issue with?
Agreed that we need something to bounce in our favour, to get the rub of the green. We haven’t had that happen since the last time we won a game.
Bob in Diss says
Cityfan(4) – You forgot Bournemouth and the Man City cup game doesn’t really count although it seems to have been a trigger for what was to come. We won 3 of 6 on our ‘good’ run. Since when do we not expect to win against Stoke? To lose a game from 3-1 up at home against anyone is shockingly poor.
The word ‘shambles’ passed the lips of the manager after the Liverpool game. It’s all about the here and now and if it looks like a rut and smells like a rut, then..
Agree with most of your comments Gary but there’s no getting away from the fact that Spurs were fair superior in every department. If they had taken all their chances the score could have been much greater than it was. The objective remains the same to get as many points as possible from those teams around us with the possible bonus of a win or draw with the high flyers and mid-table occupiers. How many ardent City supporters really expected to get anything from last night’s game given the form Spurs are in at the moment? We have to cross our fingers that those players picked to face the Villa will collectively “step up to the plate” and show us supporters the team spirit that got us into this league as well as the ability to score in the opposition’s net. Keep the faith, OTBC.
Stewart Lewis says
Ben K (8) – I try not to get too wound up about refs (and admire AN for rarely moaning about them) but last night was really poor. In the first half there were two clear fouls on Naismith in the box: at a corner early on, and one towards half-time which would certainly have been given as a free-kick anywhere else on the pitch.
Some refs need reminding that the Laws don’t change when the ball is in the penalty area.
Chris W says
I have to agree with Cityfan, being “hopeful” is one thing but another is to look at the statistical facts and on the balance of probabilities we are unlikely to usually get anything out of Liverpool or Spurs and at best a point from Stoke away. For what its worth at the start of every season I go through the fixture list and award us nil points from both games from teams that finished top 6 the previous season, 6 points from the games against each of the bottom 6 and a home draw and an away defeat against the rest. On that basis since the start of November we played 13 games and my “forecast” was for 10 points, you know what? we got 14, if only they were from the actual predicted games I would of course now be very rich! What does it prove? not much except that at least in terms of points we are about where we might have reasonably expected to be. The time to panic is if we fail to win the upcoming games against Newcastle, Villa and Sunderland.
Keith Burt's Chin says
City lack courage. To start games by dipping your toe in the water rather than getting up and at them shows this. Last night could have been different if we’d started like we meant business. Was ten days rest not adequate for us to start the game with pace and energy?! Ultimately though, it’s not losing to the likes of Spurs that’s unforgivable, it’s the no shows at Watford, Bournemouth et al. Fully expect the same at Villa. On current form this team should never take the opposition lightly but if we can trust one thing about them it’s that they will do exactly that.
Dave B says
I think the Canary Call supporter who said that AN is second guessing himself was right. We should have shook off Newcastle as a bad day in the office and kept on course.
Let Neil be Neil.
Spurs will probably win the Premiership best side I’ve seen this season. I’d like to see us set up offensively against Villa and take a few chances. It’s a confidence problem but 4 wins and a few draws from remaining games should be enough. I’d like to see a settled side again. Players not trusting each other at present. Poor spell over so reckon we’ll have a decent run now. Think John Ruddy and Ryan Bennett should play Sat love Declan but poor chap needs a break and Klosse seemed worryingly slow.No Tettey but O’Neil back. We can beat Villa, “Come on you yellows”.
If you asked any neutral, the only game of late that we might have expected anything from was Bournemouth. Otherwise it’s perfectly feasible to ship goals against the other, much stronger sides. And I include Stoke away in that, who at the last time of looking had a considerably better record in the premier league than Norwich.
We’re all still traumatised by the Liverpool game and are reacting the same as we way as we did after Newcastle. But this is a learning process – for Alex Neil as well – and he did what we all wanted against Spurs and put out the defence most people wanted. The trouble was, it was against Spurs. Which we shouldn’t judge.
If we get relegated, it’ll be down to AN’s naivety, not lack of ambition, which I’d much rather. And he’ll come back stronger, if we don’t panic.
All that said, his biggest mistake was letting his heart rule his head by confirming Martin and Bassong would be his first choice centre-backs before the season started. Loyalty is one thing…
Gary Gowers says
Ben K (8) – Was generally unimpressed with Mr Friend’s decision making all evening (for both sides incidentally) and – as Stewart noted – his self-satisfied expression generally did him few favours. On reflection both penalties were in the ‘seen em given’ category; just so happened that dear ol’ Kevin decided to award Spurs theirs and deny us ours! But hey ho.